To continue this summer’s theme on imagination, I did a little research and turned up a few more ways that kids benefit from using their imaginations. Today these benefits fall under the category of psychosocial benefits. I don’t use the word psychosocial very often, and maybe you don’t either, so I’ll sum it up quickly—it is not a negative term. It’s just a term used to describe the combined psychological and social aspects of something. So how does an active imagination benefit kids both psychologically and socially?
Empathy. Pretending is really role-playing, a tool used by many therapists to help people explore relationships and become more empathetic with another person’s point of view. Even a simple game like playing house allows children to step into the role of parents, and get a sense of what it feels like to be the ones in charge of taking care of others.
The empathy that can develop as a result of active imagining will serve children well as they grow. For example, they will be able to imagine how it would feel to be left out of an activity, or how it would feel when someone was in need and not being helped, or even how it would feel for someone to lose a beloved family pet. That awareness will temper their relationships with others and increase their sensitivity to the needs of others.
Communication. When kids play imaginative, make-believe games, they often tend to do a lot of talking. If they’re playing alone, they may narrate the story of their game out loud and invent (and act out) the dialogue for the different characters that are part of their game. If they’re involved in imaginative play with others, they may also take breaks from the game to come up with new ideas, plan the next phase of their story together, or find/invent some kind of prop that will fit into the storyline of their game.
All of these things improve children’s abilities to communicate. Narrating a story as they play helps them learn to put thoughts into words. Creating dialogue for their games gives them the opportunity to experiment with conversation or to use new vocabulary words. Playing imaginative role-playing games with others helps kids to become better at goal-oriented teamwork. It will probably also give them a lot of opportunities to work at conflict resolution, if you know what I mean. Kids are kids, after all.
What about imaginary friends? Maybe your children are some of the 35 to 40% of children who take imagination one step further and actually invent an invisible friend? Don’t worry, this is not a sign of emotional problems. In fact, unless the imaginary friend idea is causing your child to show disruptive behaviors, it’s best as parents to just relax and enjoy this time with your children. Ask your child to describe the friend and learn more about them. Play along. You may learn something about your child’s concerns, wishes, fears, and current interests!
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